As I look forward going to Mankato for my 24th year of making the trip it’s time to reflect on memories, players and people I have met along the way.
It all started in 1994 making my trek to Mankato. I did not go every day and I was just unsure what was all included in camp. I did not have any guts to ask in fact the whole season I got 3 or 4 autographs.
I guess through the years I became much better at listening to fans, asking questions and just plain wanted to get the full effect of camp.
Yes, Training Camp consists of 2 a days and the young guy I was with no initiative would watch morning practice drive 45 minutes home then hang out at home and make my 45 minute journey back for the afternoon session.
I remember emailing and or calling the Mankato Chamber and asking for a schedule and they would then mail it to me so I could make my plans on travel and days off work I would need. We now of course have more internet usage and everything can be found on line by going to Vikings.com you will find everything you need.
The event is free with the only charge being parking which is usually 5-7.00 If you decide to leave after practice make sure you keep your ticket so there is not another charge for parking.
The years over there have gone so fast as it is the event I truly look forward to. One of the big highlights over there is move in day where players seem to be a little more laid back. The only trick to meeting them is knowing their name and they of course do not have their jerseys on. I have gotten so many pictures with players on move in day.
Camp has changed through much through the years where I talked to people that went the Bud Grant years and most said they could right on the field after practice and walk with the players.
Things have changed on the security part as each year it seems a little more restricted. The Brad Childress era brought in with him what is known as the Autograph Zone. It is here each day a different group of players is designated to sign autographs for 20 minutes. Let’s just say Monday is Offensive Line, Tuesday is Wide Receiver and so forth. There is timer that you can visibly see and when the 20 minutes is up the players get up and leave. There are of course exceptions when a player or 2 may stay to finish the line. I guess it just depends on the day and the player or players that are involved.
The one thing to know and keep in mind is the heat that typically comes this time of year. The year Korey Stringer died I was over there every day. I remember coming home with headaches with not drinking enough water. The heat index was in the 110’s seeming every day. Why was I out there? I am such a fan I really didn’t think about my safety and health.
I remember getting home and watching the news and then that night the announcement of Stringer’s death. I was just in shock. I got my picture with him earlier in camp and I still have it.
I remember the next day going and not thinking but camp was closed for the day. I spent time walking along the fence line and seeing all the flowers and notes left for Korey. It was an incredible sight.
I remember the next year Coach Mike Tice came up to my buddy and myself and said you guy are here every day aren’t you. I said, “Yes.” He told us to go to the practice fields at 3:30 and I asked him why but he just responded go over there.
We went through and watched the players do their stretching then the next thing I know the sprinklers went off and away the players ran towards the fence where my buddy, myself and several fans were. Mike Tice knew Stringer had passion for fans and signing autographs so in remembrance of Korey he had players sign for 30 minutes.
Other memories as I look back is I love asking players if it is ok if I take their picture and about 99 percent ok that and I take it. The thing they don’t know is I take the picture into Wal Mart and have it blown up 8x10 and I take it back to camp the next day and see if they will autograph it. The players are time will ask for a copy which I happily will and give it to them.
I have met people from all over the world including Germany and Holland and of course from all over the US. The one thing you know is you all have one thing in common and that is your passion for the Vikings. It makes things a lot easier to strike up a conversation.
One of the tough things for me is not seeing the Gage Towers anymore after they were imploded and now they are parking lots. I think of all the years the team stayed there and now they are in Julia Sears dorms which on the west side of campus.
There is so much history of the Gage Towers and all the years the team stayed it’s hard for me not to miss them with really no reason just my own struggle to get over the past.
One of the best days of camp and will forever go down in my memory is family day. It is usually the first Saturday of camp where there is a morning practice and then nothing football wise until 7pm where the team scrimmages in Blakeslee Field for 2 hours. There are anywhere from 8-10,000 fans that jam in the stadium. The practice which is usually in full pads ends, the players return to the lock room where hundreds of fans wait in hopes for an autograph. There has been traditionally a tremendous fire work display.
I have found through the years the team seems to bring classier guys each and every year who appear to be good to the public as far as signing and taking pictures. There is of course your exception but that’s all right. We as fans have to remember that these guys come to camp to fight for their livelihoods. There are of course players that are a seeming lock to the roster but all others are fighting to make the 53 man roster.
This may or may not be the last year in Mankato but I am going over like it will be and I intend to make every single second count.
One more thing for fans that have never been to Vikings Training Camp and that is there are plenty of food and drink places to get something. There is Chipotle, Noodles, Kwik Trip to name a few places.
I hope you take me up on going over to Mankato and making your own memories.
Thanks for reading